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  health > heart > story pageAIDSAgingAlternative MedicineCancerChildrenDiet & FitnessMenWomen

Healthy habits can reduce risk of heart disease


November 9, 1999
Web posted at: 11:20 a.m. EST (1620 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Linda Ciampa

(CNN) -- You've heard it before: Eat right and exercise for better health. Researchers at the American Heart Association's (AHA) annual meeting in Atlanta say there is more evidence than ever that simple good habits can reduce the risk of heart disease.

"What's really important is that we carefully look at what our lifestyle patterns are, our eating patterns are, make small changes and make sure those changes that we make can be maintained on a daily basis," said Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts University.

One new study shows that the type of fat you eat may be more important than how much fat.

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    Source: WebMD

    Researchers say a group of people fed mostly unsaturated fats, like those found in olive or canola oils, had a greater reduction in bad cholesterol than a group fed a low-fat diet.

    "Now we realize that too low can be bad, and good fat can be very good and healthy and help control a number of significant risk factors for heart disease," said registered dietitian Penny Kris-Etherton.

    Another study offered more proof that B vitamins found in fruits, vegetables and fortified grains can reduce the level of a natural substance in the blood called homocysteine. Studies have shown high levels of homocysteine can raise the risk for heart disease.

    When researchers in Finland increased the amount of produce in a group of women's diets to seven servings a day, homocysteine levels dropped significantly.

    "What we found was that there was a significant decline in patient's baseline homocysteine levels over time, such that from a period of about 1996 to the present, we see a 30 percent decrease in population homocysteine," said Joanne Micale Foody of the Cleveland Clinic.

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    Finally, in a study of more than 80,000 nurses, Harvard researchers found the risk of heart attacks could be reduced by 82 percent if the nurses simply exercised, ate a healthy diet and didn't smoke.

    Study leader Dr. Frank B. Hu said that while genes play a role in the risk of early heart attack, unhealthy habits play a bigger role. He called the study results "very dramatic" and said, "Premature heart disease can be virtually eliminated by these lifestyle changes."

    In this study a healthy diet was defined as one low in saturated fats and high in fish oil, folate, fiber, vegetable oils and whole-grain foods.

    More than 40,000 cardiologists, heart specialists and researchers have gathered in Atlanta for the AHA meeting.

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